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stone oven cooking – portuguese style

One fine day before I was struck down by this uselessness, I lit the old stone oven at the back of the “laundry”. Tia Maria (‘Aunty Maria’, as I call the matriarch of the village: it cracks them up every time, even though they don’t know about the drink) advised that it would take about an hour to heat up. After an hour I had to move the fire to the opposite side of the oven and give that side an half hour. Then you’re supposed to take the fire out (the stones are meant to go white), put in the food and shut the door (don’t have a door, so I’m using a stone).

the oven

But the stones didn’t go white! Even after 3 hours! By 10pm, I had to just get the food in there or I’d starve to death. I had prepared a cake with lemon and almonds, a dozen bread rolls and a pot of tandoori chicken.

And so, the cake didn’t rise and the bread rolls turned out like scones. But the chicken was heavenly. Next time I’ll have to throw a whole tree in there and keep an infernal blaze going the whole day. I realise now that my ancient oven is about ten times the size of Tia Maria’s modern one…It would be great for a party, a wedding, a bah mitzva – I could roast 20 chooks at once…


Having an outdoor ‘bread’ oven and grill, like the Aussie BBQ, is an essential Portuguese home fixture. That and the coffee machine. My neighbours don’t have dishwashers, DVD or hi-fi but they all have espresso machines… likely they are the inexpensive models… and they make really great, creamy espresso. So if you’re thinking of buying one, look for a Portuguese model and shop for coffee in Petersham or your local Little Portugal.

I have been on a diet since I got back from Paris. My sister-in-law had spent a week in Geneva where, let’s be honest, they is nothing else to do but visit chocolate shops. So not only did we have copious quantities of chocolate for immediate gratification, but I returned home loaded with an ungainly box of truffles and big fat log of nougat. And a big fat log around my middle. But what can you do? I did consider giving it all to the neighbours, but since one of them meantime had murdered my dog, it wasn’t an option unless my revenge was to clog their arteries.

So now, after several weeks of no-carbohydrates-at-night and NO PASTRIES (OMG), I have achieved no weight loss whatsoever. My only hope is that I do have four months (or four years) of physical work in the sun ahead, provided I get better sometime, so that ought to keep me from looking like mutton-dressed-as-lamb…

A diet is futile now I’m sick, anyway. The Portuguese (well, just my village people, anyway) believe that you eat your way out of illness. At home it’s vegemite toast and chicken soup and black tea, but the neighbours here are insistent that if I don’t eat at least 20,000 calories a day, I’m going to die. I read recently that the Portuguese are the only people in Europe who underestimate their weight. IE: They think they are anorexic when actually they have a healthy BMI. When they push me to eat more I feel it’s payback for all the times I hassled my super-lean friends.

One Comment

  1. Henrique May 9, 2014 11:33 am Reply

    This post was hilarious! And thinking about it, it is true, Portuguese eat their way out of illness and drink too! My family is from Central Portugal as well, really close to the actual centre of the country in the municipality of Mação and there is a lot of wildlife in there. My grandmother was once bitten by a lacrau and the people from the her village had to get her drunk so that it could ease the pain. People from the old days have wonderful stories. I just found out your blog and I’m loving it! The Beiras are truly a wonderful place to live. Oh and if you ever go more Eastwards and visit places like Abrantes, Belver, Mação, Portas de Rodão, Vila de Rei (the geodesic centre of Portugal) let them know, each of these villages have their own charms.

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